Entering the 2003 NBA Draft, many scouts and draft pundits viewed swingman Josh Howard as a slight afterthought. To be fair, this was a draft class that featured the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and some guy named LeBron James at the top of most big boards. So it wasn’t like this was a talent-scarce group.
But even factoring in how loaded the front end of the 2003 NBA Draft was, Howard still ranked below luminaries such as Luke Ridnour, Brian Cook, Michael Sweetney and Reece Gaines in some mock drafts.
The reason: Many believed that Howard had a lower ceiling than the other prospects after spending the full four years at Wake Forest. Some were concerned about the dreaded and purposefully vague “character issues”.
None of that deterred the Mavericks, who took him with the No. 29 overall pick that year. If you take Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s word for it, the decision to snag Howard was a no-brainer (h/t Grantland): “He was the best player left on the board, so it wasn’t a tough call.”
It took a couple of seasons, but Howard eventually proved the Mavericks’ brain trust right. He earned a starting role midway through his rookie season. By his fourth year in the league, he blossomed into an All-Star.
That season in question — the 2006-07 campaign — was a banner year for the Mavericks all around, at least, the regular season was. They finished in the top-five in offensive and defensive rating, Dirk Nowitzki won his lone league NBA MVP award and the team won a franchise-record 67 games.
Howard was a huge part of that team’s success. He averaged 18.9 points and 6.8 rebounds with a .459/.385/.827 shooting line and .173 WS/48.
His performance in 2006-07, coupled with his subsequent two seasons — where he averaged 19.1 points and 6.2 boards — put him on track to become one of the NBA’s premier wings. Unfortunately, a combination of injuries and outside factors contributed to the shortening of his career.
When romanticizing the mid-2000s Mavericks, Nowitzki will get the lion’s share of the credit as the featured star, but Howard was one of many forgotten co-stars who in many ways was ahead of his time.